Revised June, 20 2005

By Liz Schott and Sharon Parrott

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The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Project on Program Simplification and Coordination conducts research and analysis on how benefit program rules can be simplified and better integrated across programs.  The project also provides technical assistance to states and policy analysts interested in pursuing simplification and alignment strategies in their states.

The project focuses on the main state-administered benefit programs for families with children — Medicaid, SCHIP, food stamps, TANF, and child care — with a goal of reducing the administrative burden of the programs on both states and low-income families.

This report is part of a series designed to describe how states can streamline their rules and procedures in particular areas.  Future reports will address simplification and alignment issues related to change reporting rules, verification procedures, and income and asset policies.  Reports on online benefit calculators and applications and streamlining the eligibility renewal process can be found at:


Over the last decade, internet technology has transformed many aspects of our society, including how people obtain information and conduct personal and professional transactions.  It can also offer new ways for working families to learn about and enroll in benefit programs for which they may qualify.

All states have websites that provide information about public benefit programs, including printable application forms for at least some of the major programs.  A handful of state websites offer additional features as well, including “screeners” that help families determine the benefit programs for which they may qualify and applications that can be filled out and submitted online.  This paper explores the issues that states need to consider in designing these online screening and application features.[1]

States can use their websites to facilitate enrollment in the following ways:

Online functions such as these cannot replace procedures that allow families to apply for benefits at a local human services office or by mail or phone.  Many low-income families will find applying in person or by phone easier than a process that requires computer access and both computer and reading proficiency (probably in English).

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End Notes:

[1] Additional recent resources on online screening or application are Applying Online: Technological Innovation for Income Support Programs in Four States:  Pennsylvania, Washington State, California and Georgia, January 2004, available at http://www.impact; Modernization of State TANF Systems: Using the Web for Preeligibility Screening,  State Information Technology Consortium, June 2003, available at; Prescreening Tools to Help Working Families Access Public Benefits, National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families, (forthcoming).